Before I even dive into “Coco,” Pixar’s latest animation masterpiece, we have to address the elevator pitch. A boy has a love for music that his family doesn’t approve of, and he travels to the land of the dead on Día de Muertos on a quest to find his family.
Wait, is this “Coco” or “The Book of Life?”
Calm down. Lee Unkrich, director of “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” pitched the idea in 2010, and “The Book of Life” came out in 2014. And upon watching the two movies, the stories are completely different—most notably, Coco does not feature a love triangle (or a love interest of any kind). So no, Coco did not copy The Book of Life at all.
Now that we got that out of the way, we can focus on just how beautiful this movie is in every aspect. Pixar has come so incredibly far in its animation that I don’t know how much better they can get without crossing into the uncanny valley—a term that refers to the line between animating something realistically and animating something so well that it appears out of place.
The majority of the movie takes place in the Land of the Dead, filled with skeletons of all shapes and sizes. Pixar was not only able to make skeletons all look different, but they also weren’t creepy. And the Land itself was an incredible piece of design and imagination, filled with colors, depth and so much detail that you probably need to see the movie a dozen times to catch everything.
The story itself was a classic tale—the main character, Miguel (who I was genuinely surprised to learn was not named Coco), wants to be a musician. The only problem is that his family banned music generations ago, so he has to practice in secret as he tries to emulate his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. When he discovers something about his family, he journeys to the Land of the Dead to solve the mystery.
It’s so heartwarming to see Disney/Pixar start to take on stories from different cultures, and “Coco” is Pixar’s first movie to feature a minority in the leading role. The Pixar team did so much research and traveling to really represent the culture well, and when it premiered in Mexico, it became the highest-grossing animated movie there. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and the decision to have the characters talk in Spanglish really gave it an authentic feel. Almost the entire cast is comprised of minorities, and Anthony Gonzalez, who voices Miguel, is an incredibly talented actor and singer.
Ah, that’s right—there’s music in this movie. It’s not a full-blown musical, nor should it have been. The songs are beautiful, catchy and emotional, and the score gives even more life to scenery that already feels alive.
The execution is as heartwarming as anything Pixar has done. I’ve never actually cried at a movie theatre before, but there was a scene in particular toward the end where I was sobbing. Like, I was ugly crying. I’m not going to spoil anything, but there’s a very cliché moment in the final act that doesn’t take away from the movie, but it feels like Disney encroaching on the storytelling a little bit.
I spend more time than I should ranking all 19 Pixar movies. I have to watch “Coco” a second time to really give it a proper ranking, but this movie easily puts itself in the top five. If you have a heart, this movie will tug at it restlessly. “Coco” is a must-see.